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Sunday, August 06, 2006

Snakes on a Plane Viral Campaign Misses the Multicultural Mark

I2m_snakesonplane3 I came across an interesting viral campaign for the upcoming movie "Snakes on a Plane" where users can go online and enter names to have a personalized viral message sent to someone spoken by Samuel L. Jackson.  I have seen this viral talking idea before, such as with the "7 days left" campaign for The Ring 2 ... but in that case the promotion was not personalized.  So visiting the site, I was expecting another smart piece of a marketing strategy from a film that has done well to foster a fan frenzy by reshooting scenes based on fan input, encouraging discussion through fan blogs like Snakes on a Blog and even a fan wiki.  Sadly, this viral campaign is a disappointing example of what happens when movie marketers forget about multicultural audiences. 

The first step in sending a viral talking message is to enter your name and your recipient's name.  I first tried it by entering my name and my wife's name and came up with the error message "I can't say the name Rohit or Chhavi and still make a personalized talking message."  Bummer, but maybe we just have tough names.  So I went to the Social Security Administration's website where they list the 50 most popular baby names from any year (as registered by their office).  I then tried two "ethnic sounding" names from 2004: Isaiah and Ava ... and got the same error message.  This is like an online version of the experience every kid from another culture has when going into the tourist store to see all the personalized keychains and license plates with only names like James or Emily.  Of course, those stores can't be expected to carry every name ... but in a viral campaign like this where technology serves the personalization, this should not be a barrier.  Unfortunately a concept that could have worked well as yet another buzz builder for highly hyped movie online ends up alienating multicultural audiences and falling flat.

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Comments

Yegads, how long do you expect Sam Jackson to sit in a studio recording names? Neither Rohit nor Chhavi are in the top 1000 names in the US for the last 15 years. Sam Jackson would have had be in that studio for a full year to get that far down the list.

Your point about Ava and Isaiah might have some merit, but not without seeing the full list of accepted names. I know, for example, that Liz is not on the list. That's hardly an ethnic name.

The amount of customization on the message means that Sam Jackson probably spent a full day in the studio recording names, activities, modes of transportation, personal attributes and other tidbits. It's rather impressive. They should be given some leeway for missing a few names.

Ingen - thanks for commenting (I removed your email address as requested). I agree that it is certainly impractical to expect Samuel L. Jackson to record thousands of names, and if indeed this is how they did the promotion it strikes me as admirable on his part to sit and record the names, and wishful thinking on the part of the marketing team to think that he would ever be able to record enough names in a studio to make this campaign work. How much fun would subservient chicken have been if they only had a few combinations? Even a few thousand names falls far short in today's multicultural society to make this campaign satisfying.

Hi Rohit.

I like your blog a bunch. Very lucid and informative for us Marketing Folk.

Quick point I wanna make. The Hollywood Reporter article pointed out that

the trailer which was made by Chris Rohan actually caused a reshoot which could

have cost a ridiculous sum just to target a small segment of a potentially large

audience, namely the sarcastic hard-nosed intellectual types. Most action films do

not subscribe so much to this segment as mindless entertainment serves its own

purpose and putting buts in seats is putting buts in seats. It does not matter so

much how much thinking the audience actually does. Seeing as how many of the

culturally diverse people fall into this category (broad sweeping generalization, yes

yes) perhaps the viral marketing campaign is not so necessary to woo these types,

my guess is that this demographic will attend mostly based upon the reviews they

read. However I like yourself wish there were a Rohit keychain or license plate at

the mall just the way we both did when we were kids. Your point is understood by

me but I don't think any Viral Marketing campaign can achieve it in this manner.

Actually, I used Jesus, Domingo, Maria, Antonio, and they came up okay.
As well as Jacque, Jean-pierre, and Rachelle.

Dismissing the campaign because it doesn't offer more names (multi-cultural or not) is rediculous. This particular campaign is aimed at the most likely viewer for the movie and also for those most likely to log on to the site and actually use the service. And you know what, this is an english movie(and more specifically, an american movie) and I would fully expect that the names provided would be of that nature. If I were a resident of France who was born/raised there but still given an "English" name I wouldn't at all be offended if 'Richard' or 'Stephen' or 'John' didn't come up for a French promotion.

And the service does still work if the names used aren't available. It's just that it won't be AS personalized as it could be. On that note, yes, my name is actually there however my occupation (nor my girlfriend's) is there nor is my mode of transportation (I simply have a nice car - not a junky one). None of the "traits" apply to my girlfriend or I either (we don't have muscles or tans or tatoos). I also can't specify that I am someone's boss or employee..."Damn those narrow minded movie exec's for assuming that I can't have a relationship with my employer."

Oh, and Stuart, Herman, and Judy don't work (all names of people I know) but ARMANDO, TYRONE, and JOSE are.

So, please just take a step back and get off your soap box where you're ~basically~ insinuating that this campaign is racist. This is simply a cute/cheesy marketing ploy that should really have no more ramifications than what it is - viral marketing.

OH!! And one more point. You said that you looked up the most popular baby names for 2004!? Umm, how many 2 year olds do you feel will be watching this movie? Why don't you do your search for people that can actually get into this movie and beyond. Being that this movie is rated R I wouldn't expect anyone under the age of 18 to be seeing this anyways. So, why don't you start your name search from 1988 and work backwards.

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